Monday, August 29, 2011
The end of Buffy part one. The high school years have come to a close, recurring characters are killed, Cordelia and Angel appear as regulars for the final time. The decision to blow up the school was a grand, apocalyptic and ultimately fitting end for these episodes. Buffy left Sunnydale High with a bang, embracing her destiny and defeating evil in the most spectacular way she could think of. Watching all of the Sunnydale High graduating year come together to fight off against the Mayor was visually stunning, a real war against the machine. Here are a bunch of kids who join together not only because they know it's the right thing to do, but because they trust Buffy, and they know that she's a strong leader. It's a really, really great closer.
I loved that Buffy had to, in some ways, become Faith in order to fight her. She got dressed up in tight leather pants, applied some heavier make-up, appropriated that ruthless, take-no-prisoners attitude. She even had Faith's kicky new knife. For her last real episode in this arc, Faith gained back some of her vulnerability right at the end. Sure, she was still gloating, but there was a resignation to the fact that she was beaten which had to hurt. One of the most successful elements of the Faith story was that, in the end, she's just somebody who's in a lot of pain. She has awful preconceptions about men, horrible ideas about how men see her, and has major attention-craving issues. She's a basket case, but was never written as a one-note crazy-train Slayer. She had levels, and while those layers are explored deeper as the series goes on, season three did a great job at reflecting the basic 'layers' of her persona.
Tithonus starts out feeling like an episode with elements cribbed from various other X-Files hours. There's the traumatized guest star-with-abilities of Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose, the ability to spot coming demise of Leonard Betts, and the death photographs of Unruhe. But what this episode does so well is constantly subvert your expectations, opening as an ordinary pursuit of a supposed murderer, before becoming something far heavier at the end.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
Kimber appeared in two sequences here, both in Christian's subconscious and both likely reflective of how he saw her. The Kimber glimpsed at McNamara/Troy was subservient and quick to put herself down, apologizing to Christian for not 'being good enough' for him. The second Kimber appearance was confident and angry, confronting Christian after he sleeps with her mother and exposing him for who he really is. When Kimber was alive, Christian liked to pick and choose which elements of her character he wanted. He ridicules her and calls her a whore, then later wants her to act like a porn star in the bedroom. In the end, Kimber could never win with him. Now she's dead and Christian is unhappy. It's an interesting idea to explore, but only renders Christian more ugly as a character.
Zzzzzz. This episode always bored me to tears. It's an incredibly misjudged idea, made even worse by a script that really doesn't appear to know what its doing or how to make a bad idea palatable. At the center of the story is Cole's moral ambiguity, a tried-and-tested idea that has been explored to far greater effect in any of the various Cole-centric stories earlier this season. But so much of that element is drowned out by the hugely flatlining story of corporate greed, corporate mergers and body swaps. Gah.
This is one of the series' funniest episodes. Prue's interaction with the TV crews; Piper getting electrocuted; Phoebe's account of seducing her professor; Phoebe checking out the old delivery man; Piper's various ugly purchases (the swan!); Phoebe about to fall out the window; Piper and the boxing gloves; the sisters getting thrown into boxes and Piper getting buried under an enormous crate. It's all just so, so silly, but hugely fun at the same time.
Saturday, August 20, 2011
Buffy and Angel's break-up was absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, inevitable. The back-end of this season has been deliberately inconsistent in regards to their relationship. They've dated, they've been on a break, they've shared a bed. The status of their relationship is constantly changing, a symptom of a coupling that can never truly be consummated, in any form. The problem is that they're ridiculously in love with one another (an emotion that can't just be ended), and that they can't exactly leave their 'social circle' with both of them existing in the same world and the same town. As the (much) older party, it's Angel who needed to initiate the break-up, knowing that in the long run it'll save both of them.
Choices has the unfortunate distinction of featuring the one truly crummy Buffy moment in a long while: the Mayor's awkward speech about Buffy and Angel's doomed love affair. I like the Mayor, but this felt completely out of place, an annoying excuse to raise the issue of their flatlining relationship, and out-of-character for somebody who ordinarily wouldn't give a damn about Buffy's love life. The fact that before the climactic showdown in the cafeteria Buffy and the Mayor hadn't actually met also dented whatever power that moment could have had.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
This felt like an unnecessary throwback to the X-Files of yore, with a race against time, characters in peril, and contrived plot twists which end up being ridiculously underwhelming. So a guy we haven't seen in years, who was pretty shadily sketched in the first place, is revealed to be evil? Okay then. Krycek, a character who became increasingly redundant and illogical years ago, is back. Okay then. Isn't this the third or fourth time his character has randomly appeared out of nowhere? It's so dramatically lazy at this point.
It would have felt wrong to give Kimber a happy ending. Right from the very beginning she's always been the archetypal 'victim'. She has dreams of becoming a model/actress/whatever, submits herself to various forms of humiliation and self-abuse along the way, becomes involved in drug addiction, pornography and cults, and finally ends it all. It's a horrible fate, but one that was inevitable. What makes her demise even sadder is the fact that her professional life hasn't been this positive in a while. While she's still drifted aimlessly through various careers of late, she seemed to have a newfound direction and a drive to overcome the obstacles in her life.
Connie Burge always stated that Charmed was a series about three sisters who happen to be witches, and not the other way around. Prewitched, to me, is the series' finest depiction of Prue, Piper and Phoebe as not merely demon-hunters, but as real, honest women. It's a fascinating hour, one that explores the history of the sisters before they discovered their abilities, as well as depicting the power structure within the three of them. In the flashbacks, Prue is the sister eager to move away and start a life with her new fiancée, Phoebe is the troubled soul who thinks low of herself, and Piper is the one struggling to keep everything together. It's Piper who is the emotional heart of the flashbacks, stuck in a dead-end job that isn't her passion, lonely and single, and forced to seize control of the house and family when Grams dies.
Once again, I'm really enjoying Prue. In general, she's such a sad character. She's always been so isolated from her sisters in a way, forced to be a mother figure from an early age and forced to be the responsible one when both her guardians die and the other flees the family. Even now, she's the odd one out in terms of relationships, and has put all of her focus this season onto demons and tracking down evil. Death Takes a Halliwell iss another excellent episode that focuses in on her isolation, made even more apparent via her interaction with the Angel of Death. Here's a woman who has the weight of the world on her shoulders, and here she learns that she can't always do what she thinks is the right thing.
Sunday, August 14, 2011
One of the many, many reasons I adore this episode is because of the perfect Sunnydale High atmosphere it creates. It's probably the most obvious Buffy hour to develop the feel of a real high school community. We have Cordelia and the cheerleaders, the captain of the basketball team, the newspaper editor, the lunchlady, Jonathan, Buffy's English rival, bad boy Percy, big gay Larry. Even the quad is filled with people this week! I always admired Veronica Mars for creating such a realistic population of high school students, who drift in and out depending on whether or not they were needed, and Earshot really reaches that level of community. It feeds into the finale, too, but here it meshes so well with the idea that one of these people wants to commit mass murder.
Enemies is constructed almost entirely around that fourth-act plot twist, with the big reveal that Angelus isn't back, and that in fact what we had witnessed was an elaborate ruse to expose Faith's evilness and the Mayor's plans for 'Ascension'. Therefore, a lot of the episode feels like treading water. Don't get me wrong, there are obviously interesting elements to the story, and the exploration into Faith as a person is intriguing, but as an episode it's not the most dynamic or fascinating.
This is a masterpiece. I always thought Doppelgangland, in some ways, was the perfect Buffy episode, the one that encapsulated every beautiful thing this show did so well. It takes a reliable and somewhat safe sci-fi idea (the evil double), twists it to fit the show, squeezes dry every little bit of potential to create something truly fresh and original. It challenges one of the show's performers and in the process forces everybody else to up their game. It features a script which is literally soaked in genius one-liners and wonderful comedy moments. And, finally, at the same time as all that is happening, it analyzes and helps evolve one of the series regulars in a way that hasn't been done before. It's one of the finest hours this series ever did.
Saturday, August 13, 2011
Like last week, The Rain King at first depicts ideas that are strange and extraordinary (the apparent ability to control weather), before exposing it all as something far more mundane and ordinary. At this episode's heart is unrequited love, and the element of the story I was most impressed by were the guest stars, all of whom noticed the chemistry between Mulder and Scully. There's Holman insisting that he's seen how Mulder 'gazes' at Scully, Mulder's insistence that that isn't the case, and later Sheila confronting Scully over her jealousy of her 'connection' to Mulder. It's really sweet and goofy, and ridiculously entertaining.
The disbanding of Sean and Christian's friendship continues here, with Sean irrationally making moves on Kimber and igniting an affair with her. They generate sparks, sure, but I don't know why he's doing this. Is he unconsciously (or consciously) destroying the partnership? Or is he doing this to, in some way, save Kimber from her doomed marriage? I wish the show didn't have to make Christian so physically repulsive all of a sudden, though. It's another random plot point that came out of nowhere, when Christian's mental abuse of Kimber would have easily been enough to push her into the arms of another man. Gah.
Distractingly for an episode featuring Piper's wedding, this is once again all about Prue. Like Which Prue Is It, Anyway? and Ms. Hellfire before it, it's another exploration into the two distinctive 'sides' of Prue, this time made even more literal by having her astral self take on a mind of its own. While the story isn't new, I actually enjoyed Phoebe's psychological take on the situation, something surprisingly rational and character-driven for this show. It's so common to see magic employed to get the sisters out of a tricky bind, that seeing Phoebe use her own ingenuity to save the day was refreshing.
Like this season's previous time travel episode, I'm not sure The Good, the Bad and the Cursed has enough actual story to last a whole hour, the writers seemingly creating the idea of setting an episode in the Spaghetti Western era of the 1870's and then forming the rest of the script. However, it's another fun episode, made even more interesting through pairing together Prue and Cole, two characters who have an interesting dynamic even before they've truly met each other. It was probably helped by the fact that Shannen and Julian were a real-life couple during filming, but the two of them have a ton of sexual chemistry. It'd be hard for Julian McMahon to not have chemistry with somebody, but the sparks he has with Shannen are particularly memorable.
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
It's not Allen Finch's death that marks the radical change in Faith's character, it's her reaction to it. What happened was a mistake. Yes, a man was killed, but it was an accident. Buffy and Faith got carried away in the heat of the moment, both of them stuck in this world of death and violence at that one unfortunate time that the deputy mayor was stalking around an alleyway. It was an awful thing that happened, but his death isn't the defining moment for her. Buffy experiences significant grief and guilt over what happened, arguing with herself what rights she has over a human's life, regardless of the fact that she's a slayer. Faith, on the other hand, is so casual about the whole thing that it becomes scary and twisted. She exhibits no guilt or fear, in the end becoming increasingly manipulative as she tries to twist the situation into her favor. It's a horrible thing to witness, a character becoming so corrupt and sinister, and arguably more sinister than Angelus last year.
This is Buffy-as-teenage-metaphor in its most basic sense, depicting the idea of teenage rebellion and how it becomes horrible and fatal and hideous when things spiral out of control. Buffy takes a walk on the wild side this week: partying, skipping school, stealing. But what creates the genre twist is that so much of Buffy and Faith's bad girl routine involves hunting and killing vampires. It's such an interesting approach to both characters. Buffy's idea of being a slayer is that it’s a curse and that slaying is a duty. Faith sees slaying as a sport, and vamps as a means to an end in her efforts to have fun. There's no conscience there, she just loves the hunting and the staking. It's because of Buffy's morals and her history that she quickly realizes that she's screwed up big-time.
The characterization for Xander has been really off this year. I don't know if it's intentional, but the writers have constantly struggled between making him the lovable, nerdy humor monkey, and the calculating, immature asshole. It's difficult to like him, at least for me personally. The Zeppo is an interesting episode, told almost entirely from his perspective and interested in exploring how he sees himself and how others treat him. There are obviously a ton of funny moments, but in general it's not one of my favorites. The fact that I'm not a Xander fan is one of the problems, but even on its own merits the episode isn't exactly a masterpiece.
I'm still unsure if this worked or not. Principally because the story is all over the place, twists coming at you from all angles, little resolution and a tone that veers from high-camp horror to mournful tragedy. But, generally, it's pretty entertaining. It takes some somewhat familiar X-Files ideas (hellish visions, potentially demonic pregnancies, dead babies) and runs with it in varying different directions. It's the show once again playing around with your expectations, Mulder pursuing a bad guy he knows is a little 'off', but takes a while to actually discern what that 'off' is all about. It's a feeling we share, too, and I liked it.
We can already see the major theme that will run through this final group of episodes, that of the deconstruction of Sean and Christian's relationship. It's an inevitable approach to take. But what I found most interesting about this story was that so much of it came down to both character's inability to change or grow. They're both stuck in the same roles they inhabited right back in 2003 when the series opened, and are still making the same dumb choices. This feeling can also be found in every other regular character, none of whom have changed all that much since season one.
Monday, August 8, 2011
The show is now at that point where the writers are fully aware that making one or all of the sisters evil for an episode pretty much guarantees fun. And while Bride and Gloom makes literally no sense, in general it's ridiculously entertaining. Piper and Phoebe 'blinking', Piper attacking the wedding planners, Phoebe shattering Dantalian's hand. The transformations are handled in equal parts with humor and horror. And the moment where Phoebe repeatedly beats Cole and demands that he turn into Belthazor is one of the most interesting and weirdly psycho-sexual scenes this season. Maybe that was unintentional, though.
The run of above-average episodes hits a roadblock here, with a script that tries to do way too much at once. It also features an annoyingly long-winded wrestling sequence that ages the episode pretty badly. A bunch of early-2000's shows did 'the wrestling episode', and this one also features a couple of WWE wrestlers flinging the protagonists around. I guess some of the action is fine, but I don't get how Prue and Phoebe are suddenly experts at all kinds of kung-fu violence. It threw me out of the moment for a second.
Thursday, August 4, 2011
For all the times Buffy would complain about wanting a normal life, Helpless reminds her that 'normal' is sometimes a terrifying and subservient place to be. Not only is Buffy pursued by a psychotic vampire with serious mommy issues after she has her slayer skills taken away, she's also routinely taken advantage of at school, sexually harassed in public, and can only run and scream for help when confronted with a physical attack. It's a horrible thing to see, a superhero of sorts enduring what regular mortals experience, but even more horrible when you realize that this is everyday for so many young women.
There are a lot of great ideas here, most notably the concept of a demon that whips up paranoia and persecution in small, suburban communities. It's an idea that is still resonant today, and was oddly prescient at the time of airing, with Columbine just around the corner and nearly every element of pop culture criticized and analyzed in an attempt to blame the entertainment industry for making two disturbed young men embark on a murder spree. Back on topic, Gingerbread doesn't entirely fulfil its ambition, with a lot of padding and a tone that never entirely sits well.
This is an episode that I feel is unfairly maligned by a lot of fans. But, then again, I've never exactly been repulsed by elaborate festive corn. But even away from the polarizing snow storm that caps the episode, Amends has a lot of ambition in regards to Angel as well as the show's mythology. After being on the periphery of the action ever since he was resurrected, Angel is put center stage once again, hopefully bringing some closure to the Angelus arc. He once again questions his destiny, wondering if being alive once again is really anything positive. You can't exactly blame him. His presence isn't usually welcomed by Buffy's friends, his sadistic alter ego terrorized them all last year, and Buffy seems to want him out of her life. Of course, there's still that passion between the two of them, something she has to once again confess at the end of the episode. There's no separating these two, at all.
I'm a huge Christmas fan, so I naturally enjoy anything remotely holiday-ish that a television serves up. No matter how corny or overly sentimental it may be, Christmas specials of a TV show always get to me. How the Ghosts Stole Christmas avoids being anything particularly annoying, instead being a wonderfully perceptive and eventually sweet holiday fable.
This is another strong episode for the first half of season six, one that puts characterization at its core and gives almost every member of the show's ensemble something to work with. The emotional heart-strings are pulled by Kimber and the titular Wesley Clovis, two naïve characters who are cursed by their flaws and both end up suffering terrible consequences as a result.
I always loved the idea that the only reason the Charmed Ones are so good at their jobs is because of their personalities and their relationships and their ordinary distractions, not in spite of all that. It's a subject explored pretty well here, with the sisters repeatedly criticized for their lack of preparation, their casual treatment of real threats, as well as their fashion sense (okay, the last one is justified). Whitelighter Natalie represents the by-the-book force of good who leaves nothing to chance. Obviously, she winds up dead within the hour, and the characters that try and live as full a life as possible end up saving the day.
This episode is a much stronger introduction to Victor than that awkward season one version. While that episode spent so long setting up an "is Victor secretly evil?" idea, We All Scream for Ice Cream instead depicts Victor's relationship with his daughters as a pretty ordinary family rift, the Halliwells still justifiably bitter over the father that seemingly abandoned them all at a young age. It's something that's a lot more organic and relatable, the sisters experiencing what so many regular folk also experience after parents divorce or separate.